Practicing with call-and-response loops will improve your tuning on the fiddle. These will also help your timing and flow as well as your ability to recognize and remember tunes.
Call-and-response is an ancient musical concept. One person sings first (the call) and then someone else responds. In the original practice of this, the response was often different than the call. For example, “Shave and a hair cut” is the call, and “two bits” is the response.
When I teach students in person, I play something and then they try to play the exact same thing. Though we mainly do this to learn scales and melodies, it is also a powerful tool for improving your tuning.
But how do I do it on my own?
You may be wondering, “How can I practice call-and-response when I practice by myself?”
Good news! I created a library of Call-and-response Central to help online students practice this way on their own. In these loops, you first listen to something and then play it. You continuously repeat this process along with a steady beat.
For example, say you want to practice D1-2-1-0, which is a four-beat loop. In the first repetition, you will hear the exercise plus the backing track. In the second repetition, you will only hear the backing track.
It’s during the second repetition that you would play the exercise. The advantage of having this space is that you will only be listening to yourself play the exercise. This will help you to judge your tuning. This means that you will be able to more clearly hear what you are doing.
Start with two-note intervals
An interval is the distance between two notes. In the “Learning Chunks,” I teach students to ramp up two more complex phrases by first practicing key intervals. You can use these same exercises to practice call-and-response. For example, D3-A1 is an interval from Oh Susannah (third quarter). It tends to be more challenging interval for beginners. Practice this with call-and-response:
Play the interval in the space provided. Listen when you hear me play the interval, then play it back in the space provided. This will help you to tune the note. It will also help you to hear multiple parts at once, which will help you to play with others.
Here is a great resource for you to jump into this practice: Interval Central.
Practice call-and-response loops on any tune
You can also do call-and-response practice using all the tune loops in FiddleHed. Just practice in “call-and-response mode” in which you only play every other repetition.
For example, practice the first quarter of Oh Susannah by alternating between just listening to the loop and the fiddling with the loop.
Your new mantra: Listen once, play once, listen once, play once…
There are ways to practice call-and-response without using play-along tracks at all. You can create your own call-and-response loop by alternating singing and playing.
If you are learning note names, you can sneak in practice on that as well, “E, F#, E, D”. In the call-and-response loops I created you will hear me sing the note names on some of the repetitions. On other repetitions you won’t hear the note names; you can take that as an opportunity to practice singing or saying the note names. This way of learning is known as “spaced repetition.”
Singing and playing
Practice call-and-response using your voice. Simply alternate between fiddling a little piece and singing it. So using the same example above, fiddle the phrase and then sing, “Well I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.”
Call-and-response in octaves
Another way to create your own call-and-response loops is to play a phrase, and then transpose it to a lower or higher octave:
This is a more challenging exercise, so make sure you can confidently play the 1,2 and 4-note exercises. Transposing phrases is a great way to train the ear, and it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. To help you learn this particular practice, I’ve created these special exercises [link] to help you practice tuning with transposed phrases. In addition to helping you practice playing in tune, these loops will give you an idea of how transposing works so you can then create your own practice loops.
If you think about it, practicing with call-and-response loops forces you to listen for half the time you are practicing. The regular alternation of listening and playing will train you to play better in tune. It will also make continuous listening a deeply ingrained habit. This will help you to listen to all the elements of a song (other instruments) while listening to yourself at the same time. This is challenging, but also a great and necessary skill.
What other ways can you think of to practice call-and-response?
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